Ethics Dunces: Boston Red Sox Players

owens pole

Yesterday, while watching the Boston Red Sox game on NESN as I always do EVEN WHEN THE TEAM STINKS, like this year, because no summer soldier I, team broadcasters Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy pointed out that Sox rookie Henry Owens was watching the game while being taped to a pole, with his mouth taped shut as well.

This is old-fashioned baseball rookie hazing, as Remy explained (also opining that he thought it was stupid when he played and is stupid now). The theory is that this makes rookies part of the team, builds cohesion and spirit, and yada yada yada, all the same phony rationalizations that jerks have used to excuse hazing cruelty and sadism in fraternities, the military, cults and sports teams for eons. The Owens stunt was relatively mild (and mercifully short), but the practice of hazing is still institutionalized bullying, uncivilized, and, as Remy said, stupid.

Sports team players are home town heroes, and role models too. How many kids will be humiliated, tortured, injured or even killed because the Boston Red Sox thought it was funny to immobilize a 6’6″ rookie pitcher by taping him to a pole on live TV, thus teaching him that no matter how  good he may be at pitching (and Owens is going to be really good), he’s at the bottom of the pecking order until he “earns” decent treatment and respect. “In my experience, the guys who really liked hazing the rookies were the players who couldn’t play,” noted Jerry, a Sox regular in the Eighties.  They were sadistic bullies, in other words, making up for their own inadequacies by abusing others.

You can say that Owens consented, and that’s like arguing that Monica consented when the President of the United States wanted her to emulate a Bourbon Street hooker. Owens could refuse, and be regarded as a bad team mate, leading to a year or more of cut shoelaces, shredded uniforms, insulting messages on his locker and worse “jokes.” Or he could quit baseball and sell Slurpees rather than make a gazillion dollars. He had to submit, and had to smile about it.

So he did.

Even baseball players need to be better at ethics chess than this, and calculate the likely consequences of their conduct. Hazing is unethical, and glamorizing, modeling and trivializing it on TV is irresponsible.

And stupid.

Preliminary Ethics Observations On The NFL Bullying Scandal

The bully and the bullied.

The bully and the bullied.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, the details are here. There is much that remains in question, but the basic outline of the incident is this:

  • The Miami Dolphins, like most professional football teams and also most college teams, have a tradition of “hazing” rookies, humiliating and harassing them in various way, “all in good fun, of course.”
  • The ironically named Richie Incognito, a starting guard for the Dolphins, was known as an especially relentless and enthusiastic hazer.
  • Last weak, the team’s second-year tackle Jonathan Martin walked out on the squad and checked into to a hospital, saying he could  he could no longer deal with the continued harassment from his teammates.
  • Incognito was shown to have referred to Martin using abusive language and racial epithets in voice messages.
  • Based on the evidence of the voice mails, the Dolphins suspended Incognito, who is being defended by his team mates. Sources are saying that his career with the Dolphins, and perhaps the NFL, may be over.
  • It is likely that the Dolphin coaches were aware of Martin’s hazing.

This is the perfect ethics problem to approach with what I regard as the most important clarifying question in beginning any ethical analysis:  What’s going on here? Continue reading